Companies Profit From Increased Immigrant Detention Rate

Companies Profit From Increased Immigrant Detention Rate

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Companies are profiting from the detention of immigrants; it’s a thriving business that seems likely to continue to grow.

The companies that build and run private prisons have boomed in recent years. This growth is not a result of contracts with states, which are facing budget problems, but with the federal government, for the construction of immigrant detention centers.

There have been three major U.S. companies that construct, remodel, and administer private prisons that contract with the government: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The GEO Group, Inc., and Cornell Corrections. GEO acquired the latter last year, making GEO and CCA the major players.

Together, these two companies made $3 billion in 2010 and control almost three quarters of the private prison market. Right now, the majority of their business comes from state prison contracts, but that’s not where the future is: state governments don’t have the money for new prisons.

“The money is in immigration,” said Paul Ashton, researcher for Justice Policy Institute, which published a report two days ago on the private correctional industry and how they seek to influence public policy that increases their earnings.

“States are cutting everything, including prisons, for budget reasons, but the federal government doesn’t have that pressure. They are investing in immigrant detention more and more.”

The number of detained immigrants has tripled since 1996. It has doubled in the last five years alone, according to Detention Watch Network.

In this same period, the private prison industry has prospered. While the total number of prisoners in the United States increased by 49 percent, the inmate population in private prisons has increased by 354 percent, according to government statistics.

ICE authorities are currently carrying out reforms in the immigrant detention system. Part of this process involves moving immigrants from local prisons to specialized immigrant detention centers. This shift requires the creation of new detention centers for immigrants without criminal records.

Recently, GEO announced in its company newsletter (The GEOworld, available on the company’s website), that the company will profit significantly from two new centers in Texas and California that it will run for the federal government.

“We are finalizing the renovation of the Adelanto Processing Center for a federal client, with a capacity of 650 beds,” the publication reported. Adelanto, a San Bernadino city nine miles from Victorville, sold its local prison to GEO for $28 million in order to maintain public services in a city on the brink of financial collapse.

GEO is making similar deals with other cities and states across the country to construct new federal immigration detention centers. The center in Texas, according to GEO, will be a “new civil detention center,” for “low risk” immigrants with no criminal record.

All of this means a lot of money for the company. Between the two locations, GEO will earn $15 million annually, according to the same GEOworld article.

Since 2001, CCA’s earnings have increased by 88 percent and GEO’s by 121 percent. The GEO Group is a multinational corporation that also manages immigrant detention centers in other countries.

For example, GEO manages a Scottish immigration prison located in a castle that used to be owned by a duke who used it for hunting excursions, and now belongs to the British government.

But these companies do more than just offer their services to governments. According to the recent Justice Policy Institute Report, they have spent millions of dollars in lobbying politicians not only for contracts, but to increase budgets for detention and for stricter anti-crime policies.

“It is difficult to know how much they really spend because their finances aren’t transparent, precisely because they are private companies and not public entities,” said Emily Tucker of Detention Watch Network. “Right now we are analyzing the relationships between these companies with government officials and former officials in the area of immigration.”

Julie Myers, who served as an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and directed ICE in the Bush administration, is now a GEO Group lobbyist since the corporation bought the company Behavioral Intervention (B.I.), which Myers represented.

B.I. produces alternatives to imprisonment for detainees, including electronic monitoring ankle bracelets for immigrant detainees who are released under bail.

According to an analysis by the Detention Watch Network, the five corporations that have contracts with ICE have spent more than $20 million in lobbying in the last decade. CCA and GEO have lobbied various governmental divisions.